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Sunday Book Review: Hunter Killers

[ 8 ] August 23, 2015 |

This is a guest post by Dr. Jonathan Gitlin of Ars Technica.
The Cold War activities of the Royal Navy’s submarine fleet are the subject of a rather fascinating book, Hunter Killers by Iain Ballantyne. From the late 1940s onwards, British submarines were sent on regular intelligence gathering missions into hostile waters, cataloguing new naval vessels, eavesdropping on missile tests, and snooping on the Soviets from periscope depth.

With far fewer submarines available to it than its US cousin (which could afford to send a different sub each time), Royal Navy crews would often complete several cruises during their time with a particular boat. That resulted in already well-trained sailors earning a reputation as some of the finest submariners on the planet, even earning the respect of insurance salesman and sometime novelist Tom Clancy.

Hunter Killers follows the evolution of the Royal Navy’s fleet of attack submarines, beginning with post-war diesel electric boats which later gave way to nuclear powered feats of engineering (known by the shorthand SSN). Those early boats sounded like hellish places to spend several weeks. Foul air, cramped quarters, and the risk of running low on food days or even weeks before resupply were all features of the early Cold War submarine service, but at the same time Ballantyne describes it as a branch of the Navy where iconoclasts and non-conformists found a happy niche within which to serve their country.

The arrival of SSNs significantly enhanced the Royal Navy’s intelligence gathering abilities, since the much larger ships could loiter in Soviet waters without needing to frequently surface to let the crew and engines breathe. These SSNs were also tasked with finding and trailing Soviet counterparts, both attack subs and the missile-packed SSBNs that formed part of the USSR’s nuclear deterrent. Even in peace time these were dangerous activities, and more than once a British boat had to sail back into port under cover of darkness and wrapped in tar-painted tarps to conceal damage resulting from underwater collisions.

Ballantyne also details the punishing submarine school that potential sub captains had to complete, known as the Perisher. Officers would spend four weeks having their command potential, as well as their nerve, tested over and again in exercises stalking other ships, delivering special forces to beaches, and so on.

Much of the book is written from the perspective of British submariners (both officers and enlisted men), presumably from their notes and log books. This novel-like style may not sit well with everyone, particularly if you expect your history books to be on the dry side, but it’s an engaging device that—in my opinion—brings this particular slice of the Cold War to life effectively. It’s certainly a story that ought to be more widely appreciated.


Train a Comin’

[ 23 ] August 22, 2015 |

This is the kind of thing that’ll make you rethink your position on the Air Force:

French President François Hollande planned Saturday to meet three Americans who foiled a suspected terrorist attack on a packed high-speed train running from Amsterdam to Paris.

A gunman opened fire Friday on the high-speed train — a route packed with officials, busi­ness­peo­ple and diplomats — before being tackled and tied up by three men, according to family members and French officials, who said their quick work had foiled a major tragedy…

One of the Americans, Air Force serviceman Spencer Stone, was stabbed and remained in the hospital Saturday, said the parents of his two friends. The Pentagon did not provide his name but said that his wounds were not life-threatening. A dual French-American citizen was wounded by a stray gunshot, Cazeneuve said.

One of the others was a member of the Oregon National Guard. The initial reports indicated that the men on the train were Marines, based, I dunno, on the default assumption that only Marines would do this kind of thing?

In any case, genuine heroism. The gunman might have killed dozens of people if these guys hadn’t been heads up.

An Integrated System of Abuse

[ 75 ] August 19, 2015 |
Pearl harbour.png

“Pearl Harbor” by USN – Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

Great post from Jill Filipovic on Twitchy:

Twitchy may be one of the most powerful political platforms online, but its role as an organized harassment tool is almost never discussed. Founded in 2012 by conservative blogger Michelle Malkin, the site has half a dozen editors who troll Twitter for content to post; each post consists of a tweet or series of tweets along with some brief and often outraged commentary. Malkin sold Twitchy to Salem Media, a for-profit Christian company in 2013, but the religiosity of its new owners has not shifted its acidic content. (Malkin and several current Twitchy editors did not respond to multiple emails requesting comment, and Salem Media did not return emails and phone calls requesting comment)…

While Twitchy’s content is tweet aggregation, its purpose seems to be filling insatiable reader rage. Many of the tweets posted to Twitchy are put on there seemingly for the express purpose of demonstrating how stupid or evil Twitchy believes the tweeter to be (although the site occasionally posts tweets from allies, cheering them on for shutting down enemies). The Twitchy team embeds the tweets into the posts, making it easy for their users to click through and engage with the tweeter directly.

And “engage” they do.

Erik, of course, felt the brunt of Twitchy harassment back in the day. The existence, and clear purpose, of Twitchy is one of the reasons why I struggle to take seriously the hand-wringing of Decent Liberals about how the PC folks with the Black Lives Matter and the Humorless Feminism are going to ruin everything by creating a Backlash. Twitter has already been weaponized; while self-restraint is often a virtue, there’s nothing that liberals and leftists can do to un-weaponize it. There is no pending backlash that could be avoided by telling the feminists and minorities to be quiet, because the “backlash” isn’t a counter-attack; it’s a pre-emptive strike.

An Appeal!

[ 65 ] August 18, 2015 |
Pursuit Special.jpg

LGM: The Last of the V8 Interceptors “Pursuit Special” by Ferenghi – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Commons.

We’ve arrived at LGM’s Fundraising Appeal! We try to limit this exercise to once a year, unless Loomis endures another financial catastrophe, including but not limited to spending his entire book advance on a bag of magic beans or some such bullshit.

(If the above button doesn’t work, try the one on the near right sidebar)

LGM is not a non-profit in the technical sense of the term, and none of our readers are under any obligation to toss a quarter into the tip jar. This site has survived, in no small part, because people continue to read, engage, and comment. That said, the writers (not to mention the owners!) don’t make anything approaching what they deserve for the amount of time they put into the site. Your donation will go in part to increasing the remuneration of the contributors, but will also go to the following tasks:

  • Investigating and engineering a redesign that will improve speed and readability on both desktop on mobile
  • Improving the LGM Store (and ditching Cafe Press)
  • Paying guest authors, some of whom choose to donate their fees to worthy causes
  • Increasing the reach of the site on social media and elsewhere
  • Redoubling our efforts to work up a reliable, consistent podcast
  • Acquiring additional pleated khakis for Loomis, and dad jeans for the rest of us.

We deeply appreciate any contribution that you could make. This blog has been around for a very long time, and if it weren’t (very mildly) profitable, I doubt we’d still be here, doing the things we do.

But don’t take my word for it:

    • “Whatever else you can say about Lawyers, Guns and Money, it would never run references to vodka or Trent Richardson into the ground.”  Scott Lemieux, the Guardian
    • “Lawyers, Guns, and Money is the internet’s leading site for dead horses.” Erik Loomis, University of Rhode Island
    • “Here are the five most lethal ways in which LGM will rock your world.” — Robert Farley, The National Interest
    • “As for collocations of Yankee cockersuckers bound by warped, unnatural impulses, they suffice” — Al Swearengen, proprietor, Gem Saloon
    • “The blog that caused Derek Jeter to retire.”  — Scott Lemieux, The Week

  • “This site has the most labor-friendly aircraft carriers on the Internet” — Scott Eric Kaufman,
  • “Who is Freddie DeBoer?  Should I know this?” — Paul Campos, University of Colorado
  • “Just buy my fucking book.  Yes, both of them.” Robert Farley, author of Grounded, and the Battleship Book.
  • “witlessly incendiary.”  — Ramesh Ponnuru, National Review Online
  • “Much better since Dave Noon stopped posting.”  — Jewel

I’ll let our biggest fan have the last word:

What, do you guys have that little to do that you spend so many hours obsessing over my every move? Don’t you have families? Hobbies? You could write a fucking dissertation with all of the time and words you’ve wasted, trying to prove to the world that I’m irrelevant by following me around like TMZ. What kind of a pack of tweens gets so bizarrely fixated on somebody with no power over their lives whatsoever? It’s like your some pathetic guy relentlessly hitting “refresh” on his ex-girlfriend’s Instagram.

Foreign Entanglements: Cyber Conflict

[ 0 ] August 17, 2015 |

In the latest edition of Foreign Entanglements, I talk with Brandon Valeriano about the over-hyping of cyberwar:

Tools for Enhancing Your Mature Aircraft Carrier

[ 21 ] August 16, 2015 |
SSZ airship aboard HMS Furious 1918 IWM Q 20640.jpg

“SSZ airship aboard HMS Furious 1918 IWM Q 20640” by Ernest Brooks – This is photograph Q 20640 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums. . Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

My latest at the National Interest takes a look at ways to make aircraft carriers more effective:

In short, aircraft carriers are composite systems of warfare that can increase rapidly in lethality as their components improve. While the USN (and the other carrier fleets of the world) will likely never achieve the leaps forward in lethality that the inter-war navies experienced, it can still expect that its carrier fleet will grow in effectiveness over time. The USN can increase the effectiveness of its carriers in one of three ways: increase their offensive striking power, tighten their defense, or (perhaps most difficult) bring their procurement costs into line. In this context, here are five developments that could increase the lethality of the USN’s aircraft carrier fleet:


[ 11 ] August 14, 2015 |

IJN battleship Nagato and her all crewmembers.jpg

“IJN battleship Nagato and her all crewmembers” by Unknown – Old Japanese Magazine.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

My favorite battleship of all time is HIJMS Nagato, and I wrote about her end for the Diplomat’s 70th year VJ Day festivities:

Nagato served in, and survived, most of the important battles of World War II, with the exception of the Guadalcanal campaign. Because of her symbolic role in the Pearl Harbor attack, the USN made a special effort to find and destroy Nagato in the last months of the war. The Japanese successfully camouflaged the ship, however, and it survived the huge air raids that sank the rest of the surviving battleships of the IJN. Nagato was on hand for the Japanese surrender on September 2, 1945.

And if you’d like to know more you could, of course, buy my book…


[ 17 ] August 14, 2015 |
HMS Nabob

“HMS Nabob” by Hudson, F A (Lt) Royal Navy official photographer – . Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.


I’ve often heard the claim that the Royal Canadian Navy was the third largest in the world at the end of the World War II.  The claim makes sense on its face; the Kriegsmarine and the IJN effectively disappeared upon their surrender, the status of the Regia Marina was in some legal dispute, the Soviet Navy was not particularly large, and the Marine Nationale was early in the process of reconstruction.  Combined with wartime expansion, this would make the RCN a competitor for the third slot behind the USN and the RN.

Turns out that the devil is in the details. This article answers many of your questions about the size of the Royal Canadian Navy, but long story short:

  1. It matters whether you’re talking about VE Day or VJ Day, because the RCN retired ships faster than the IJN had it ships sunk.
  2. The Soviet Navy was a lot bigger in World War II than most people think.
  3. The French, Australians, and Swedes catch up pretty fast.

And so, the RCN can plausibly be ranked as the 5th largest navy on VE Day, behind the IJN and the Soviet Navy.  By VJ Day, the IJN disappears, but the Marine Nationale keeps the RCN in the fifth slot.  By the end of the 1945, the Swedes and Australians take over the fifth and sixth slots.

Sorry, Canada.  Another national myth shattered. Hat tip to Claude Berube.

Damn You, Amazon!

[ 17 ] August 12, 2015 |


I’ve just been notified that there’s been a site download problem; it appears to have something to do with the recent updates that Amazon has made it its ad system.  Hopefully the problem has been corrected; if it persists, please let me know in comments.



“…really just glorified beer salesmen”

[ 12 ] August 12, 2015 |
Zuikaku Indian Ocean April 1942.jpg

“Zuikaku Indian Ocean April 1942” by Not stated – Hata, Ikuhito and Yasuho Izawa (translated by Don Cyril Gorham), Japanese Naval Aces and Fighter Units in World War II, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland, 1989, p. 8.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

My second career as a content provider continues.

Five most dangerous Iranian tools of statecraft:

However, Iran retains a set of lethal tools for pursuing its interests in the Middle East.  Iran’s regional presence has always amounted to more than the nuclear weapon threat; before the Revolution, Iran played a central role in the politics of the region.  After the Revolution it continued to play this role, only in far more disruptive fashion.

Here are five lethal “tools,” arrayed across the spectrum of strategic violence and influence, that Tehran can use to protect its position and further its ends:

Five most “lethal” aircraft carriers of all time:

By the end of 1941, carriers would become the world’s dominant capital ship. These are the five most lethal carriers to serve in the world’s navies, selected on the basis of their contribution to critical operations, and on their longevity and resilience.

Monday Linkage

[ 36 ] August 10, 2015 |
Convair B-58 Hustler.svg

“Convair B-58 Hustler” by Kaboldy – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Some links for your pleasure…

The Continuation Wars

[ 28 ] August 7, 2015 |

Japanese destroyer Yukikaze, later ROCS Tan Yang, by Shizuo Fukui – Kure Maritime Museum. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

This week’s Diplomat column looks at the wars that didn’t end in August, 1945:

Much as with Europe, the fighting continued across the expanse of the continent, and deep into the Pacific, for years after the formal Japanese surrender. The end of hostilities between Japan and the United States represents one of the most important milestone in the larger, lengthier struggle over the decolonization of East Asia, but only one. The wars-of-continuation would decide the fates of Vietnam, China, Korea, Indonesia, and much of the rest of the Asia-Pacific.

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